My littlest sister leaves home this week. She’s leaving behind the cool green ridges of Western Wisconsin for the heat and the hustle and the dust of Dallas, Texas.
Texas is a long way from Wisconsin, and the University of Dallas is a long way from a tiny high school in a farm town complete with hitching posts outside the hardware store. Not a lot of Amish people in Dallas, I imagine. Not a lot of Wisconsin farm girls either. It’s a long journey and a huge leap, but I know that my bold, beautiful, and surprisingly sophisticated sister will do just fine. In fact, she will shine, as she always has and always will.
Clare has been beautiful since she was born. I was 17 when that happened, and part of the reason I put off leaving for college for an extra year was the fact that I couldn’t bear to disappear without holding her (and all the rest of my littlest siblings) for as long as I could. I read them stories and sang them to sleep and cried because I was terrified that they would grow up without having me be a real presence in their lives.
It turns out that my personality is strong enough to make a significant mark in the life of my family even from thousands of miles away. That’s a good thing, since my path has taken me further from home than I could have imagined. Before I left home when I was Clare’s age I fought fiercely to hold my family and my land in my heart, and there they remain. I let go, and I held on. I’m pretty sure I still managed to form Clare’s childhood quite a bit. If nothing else, I imparted the importance of wandering out of the farmhouse barefoot and dressed like a gypsy or a wood nymph or a queen, carrying a book about any of those type of characters, headed for the woods to dream under a tree. Dramatic makeup and a super amazing photographer like my sister Nicole on hand? Even better.
Here is what is hard. Clare leaving for college is not just the end of her childhood. It’s the end of all of ours. As the ninth and last sibling to leave the nest, her departure means that we are raised, at least officially speaking. Granted, the height of the clamor and the chaos died down years ago. It’s been a long time since we played our particular version of tag, which at one point regularly included climbing out the third floor windows and scrambling around the roof while whooping and howling. We’ve ceased causing near heart attacks for our farmer neighbors and some of us are selling them corn or life insurance instead. We’re growing up and settling down and beginning to raise another generation of children, and that’s a wonderful thing. The past is gone, but the future is bright, particularly for my bright eyed, flame haired, college bound baby sister Clare.
I’m far away from home and soon Clare will be too, but I’m holding her in my heart as she leaps out into the future.